Speech Feature Terminology


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3 Part Exchange

3 utterances linked in an obvious way, usually rallied between 2 speakers. E.g. A asks a question, B answers, A provides feedback or a comment.

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Adjacency Pair

2 utterances linked in an obvious or clear way, always said by different speakers. E.g. Question/Answer; Greeting/Returned Greeting; Apology/Acceptance.

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Feedback offered by one or more listeners to the main speaker, taking the form of minimal responses and non-verbal communication such as nods and/or laughter.

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Closed Question

A question with few possible answers, or with a narrow field of response. E.g. "Did you like the film?" rather than a more open question like "Can you tell me about the film?"

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A word or phrase that is common in spoken language but not in written Standard English. E.g. 'ain't'.

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Contraction/Contracted Form

2 words that are reduced into 1 using an apostrophe. E.g. 'can't/wouldn't'.

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A reference to something within the context of the interaction. E.g. that 'can you pass me that?' or him 'did you speak to him yet?'. It can alternatively be a time reference such as yesterday/next week - because we don't know the date of the interaction, we don't know when they refer to.

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Discourse Marker

A word that indicates a change of (or return to) topic. E.g. anyway, well, as I was saying.

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Missing out a sound within a word. E.g. intrest, goin'. Note that these words may or may not be marked with an apostrophe.

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Missing out a word, often a noun or pronoun. E.g. "better get on with it", where it could of be 'I'd, S/He'd, we'd, or you'd.

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False Start

Changing tack a short way into a sentence.

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A word that is found to have no/little meaning. Speakers often have preffered fillers; they form part of our idiolect. E.g. like, innit.

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Repetition of the subject at the start of a sentence but in a different form. E.g. Clare, she's really nice. OR. That girl, I really like her. A head can be a single word or a longer phrase.

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"Padding" that is added to bold statements, often intentionally in order to soften a request of statement. E.g. kind of, probably, could be.

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An individual way of talking. It is often characterised by dialect terms, favoured fillers, discourse markers, and any use of language that distinguishes them from the majority.

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Ingroup Lexis

Vocabulary shared by a group, often a form of slang or catchphrase/buzzword. It is used to show membership or belonging.

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Utterances by different speakers which follow on (with no pauses) are said to "latch". They can show enthusiasm/shared purpose/agreement.

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These are usually represented by a (.). It shows a very brief pause, that acts as punctuation or possibly a hesitation/thinking time in spontaneous speech.

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Minimal Response

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Non-standard Grammar

Preferred term (not incorrect, bad, or poor grammar). Common in speech even of the educated.

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Non-verbal Filler

Filler which is not technically a word. E.g. "umm" or "erm".

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Open Question

A question with many possible responses; and allows the speaker more of a choice of topic/conversation direction.

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Participants speaking at the same time, on the same topic. More positive than interruption; usually shows enthusiasm or a high degree of interaction.

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Phatic Utterance

Utterance having little meaning but a social purpose. E.g. "hello, how are you?".

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Repetition of a word or phrase, often due to having thinking time or hesitation. If done deliberately for impact, it is known as repetition, not recycling.

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Self Repair

Correcting oneself - sometimes an utterance could be described as self-repair or a false start.

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Informal spoken language which is usually group-specific.

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Taboo Language

Low-register language which is inappropriate in many social settings.

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Clause "tagged on" at the end of an utterance. E.g. "She's really happy today, Sarah is". May be a tag question. "She's really happy today, isn't she?" Tag questions can be rhetorical or an invite comment.

Note - Tags must include a verb.

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Similar to a tag, but doesn't include a verb. Also similar to a head, but at the end of an utterance. E.g. "I really love chips, me".

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Terms of address

The way people refer to each other. Formal terms of address are ususally titles. E.g. Dr/Reverend/Mrs (and so on). Informally, we tend to use first names, or terms of endearment such as "love" or "hon".

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Timed Pause

Always timed in seconds, usually represented as (1); (0.5), etc. They often don't mean anything except that the speech is spontaneous; may punctuate longer utterances; can show uncertainty of an unwillingness/hesitation to voice the utterance that follows.

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Vague Language

Anything that is imprecise or woolly. More specifically:

  • Expressions such as "and that", "or whatever", at the ends of statements. They are often used like hedges.
  • Non-specific nouns like "whatsit" and "thingymajig".
  • Hedges, including the addition of -ish, or -y. E.g. "It's a cakey sort of thing".
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Voice-filled pause

Same as non-verbal filler.

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Thank you!  You have just made my English terminology so much easier to use! :D 

Lisa Bilsby


You're welcome! :) x

George Gough


Thanks for this! 

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